Saturday, January 15, 2011

Truncated Venus: Reclining Nude by Antoine Watteau

Reclining Nude (c 1716)

Here is a nude with an unusual origin, which Agent Triple P saw in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena a few years ago.

The Judgement of Paris (1721). One of Watteau's final paintings

Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) is most famous for his bucolic but theatrical paintings of figures in a landscape, particularly using characters from the commedia dell'arte. His nudes, many of which are, characteristically, only partly naked, either disport themselves in mythological scenes or in domestic interiors.

The Remedy (c 1716)

This very small (14cm x 17cm) painting is unusual in that it depicts a nude in neither a domestic nor a mythological scene.  However, recently Triple P came across a preliminary drawing for this painting which shows a very different composition and shows the figure in full, rather than the truncated version above.  Entitled The Remedy it shows the same woman about to have an enema administered by her maid.  In those days it would have been known as a clyster after the clyster syringe the maid is holding.  The use of an enema using the clyster syringe was a common remedy for stomach cramps and constipation from the 17th until the 19th century. 

The Secret Toilet (c 1715)

The drawing itself is far more than a sketch (although drawn over the top of other sketches) whereas the painting looks more like a study.  Watteau had produced a number intimate pictures of a lady and her maid, such as The Secret Toilet, which is in a private collection and we can only find in a black and white reproduction.  So whether he had any plans to produce this rather curious subject in a full blown painting isn't known.

Watteau in 1720 painted by Rosalba Carriere

Watteau, the son of a tiler, was initially apprenticed to a local painter in Valenciennes, where he was born.  Having outgrown his teacher he moved to Paris at the age of eighteen and workied in a workshop that produced copies of old master paintings.  It was here that he developed his characteristic, loose style which, in many ways, was an early forerunner of impressionism; particularly in the way he handled landscapes.  Failing to win the Prix de Rome in 1709 his 1712 entry was so accomplished that not only did he win the prize of a year's study in Rome but he was immediately accepted as  a full member of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture.

A Lady at her Toilet (1716)

Always a sickly individual, he died in 1721 at the age of only 36, largely unknown outside a small group of devotees but now considered one of the most influential painters of the eighteenth century.

No comments:

Post a Comment